Mel has had asthma since she was a baby, so throughout her ironman training she made sure to manage her asthma to the best of her ability, in order to get optimal results! Read on for Melissa’s journey from asthma to Ironwoman.

Mel says: I started showing asthma symptoms at six months old - wheezing and lots of coughing. My Mum said every time I got a cold I'd end up having an asthma attack. 

I was in hospital a lot when I was little. 

I don't remember much before starting school though. I do remember having a teacher at primary school who also had asthma and she would teach us asthmatics breathing exercises to help us relax. At primary school I had a Rotohaler – basically pop a capsule in and twist and then try to suck up the powder. I remember that being really hard to do!

Rotohaler

Photo caption: A Ventolin Rotohaler

When my asthma wasn't under control I would end up in hospital and generally had to stay the night. I do remember being really scared because I couldn't breathe. But being annoyed as I'd get to choose my menu the day after, but inevitably would end up being sent home before I got what I'd ordered!

Around Intermediate I got an inhaler, which was much easier and quicker to relieve my symptoms.

It’s great to think that advances in modern medicine make life much easier for people who have asthma.

I grew up playing lots of sports - swimming, netball, basketball, touch rugby, and indoor netball. I'd always have my inhaler in a pocket or down my bra. It is never far from my reach. 

These days I manage my asthma by ensuring I regularly take my preventer inhaler, and I make sure that I keep fit. I still have 'triggers' - strong smells like bleach or the smell of smoke on someone. Cold wind or weather can make me wheezy. A quick change in the weather can also bring on the wheeze, but I no longer panic if I realise I've left my reliever inhaler somewhere.  

Recently I've taken up triathlons and still have my reliever inhaler with me at all times. I only seem to need it during the swim leg now - especially if the water is cold. 

Mel Wharewera

Photo caption: Mel Wharewera competing in a race in Tauranga, January 2019 - 3km swim, 120km bike, 25km run.

Training for an Ironman has been a rollercoaster journey and there have been some setbacks. It’s  very challenging both physically and mentally. But I’ve managed to get back that focus, motivation and fitness when things aren’t going to plan.

An Ironman consists of a 4km swim, 180km bike ride and 42km run. Throughout the year on average I’m training around 12-18 hours per week, which ramps up to around 20 hours per week in the last few weeks leading up to the event.

Training and competing in sporting events has definitely improved my asthma. I now have a fairly good lung capacity and a decent peak flow reading. 

I’m managing my asthma through taking a preventer inhaler twice a day. It took a while to find the correct medication for me, but now that I’ve found it my ‘reliever inhaler’ use is almost at nothing. So it's definitely at its best now. 

I’ve learnt a lot about my asthma and how scary this disease is.

I’ve also learnt that sometimes you can feel fine but your lungs aren't even at their full capacity and your breathing is still compromised.

My only advice for others with asthma would be to ensure you regularly take your preventer inhaler. If it seems that it's not working - go to the doctor to see if there is another or new inhaler that would be better. Don't give up!

 Mel Wharewera successfully completed the Ironman 2019 on 2 March 2019 in Taupo, New Zealand, and she can now proudly call herself an Iron(wo)man! Thank you for sharing your story with us Mel!

Can you help other New Zealanders with a respiratory condition?

Sadly, many New Zealanders are affected by respiratory disease. One in six New Zealanders have a respiratory condition. Respiratory illness is the third leading cause of death in New Zealand.

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